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Recent Endorsements for College Athletes Resurface an Old Concern: Sex Sells


Olivia Dunne is a gymnast on Louisiana State’s women’s team.

She was an all-American in her freshman yr and made the Southeastern Conference’s honor roll as a sophomore majoring in interdisciplinary studies.

Ahead of the beginning of her junior season, Dunne can be at the vanguard of a movement shaking the old foundations of school sports: a female student athlete raking in money because of the passage in 2021 of recent rules allowing college athletes to sign name, image and likeness, or N.I.L., deals.

Dunne, 20, won’t give specifics on her earnings, which at the very least one industry analyst projects will top $2 million over the following yr.

“Seven figures,” she said. “That’s something I’m happy with. Especially since I’m a girl in college sports.” She added: “There are not any skilled leagues for most girls’s sports after college.”

Dunne, a petite blonde with a vivid smile and a gymnast’s toned physique, earns a staggering amount by posting to her eight-million strong web following on Instagram and TikTok, platforms on which she intersperses sponsored content modeling American Eagle Outfitters jeans and Vuori activewear alongside videos of her lip syncing popular songs or performing trending dances.

To Dunne, and plenty of other athletes of her generation, being candid and flirty and showing off their bodies in ways in which emphasize traditional notions of female beauty on social media are all empowering.

“It’s nearly showing as much or as little as you wish,” Dunne said of her online persona.

The athlete compensation and endorsement rules have been a game-changer for collegiate women, particularly those that compete in what are generally known as nonrevenue sports, similar to gymnastics.

Sure, male football players have garnered about half of the general compensation estimated to be value at the very least $500 million, fueled by collectives formed by wealthy supporters who pay male athletes for the whole lot from jersey sales to public appearances.

Women are greater than holding their very own as earners thanks largely to leveraging their social media popularity. Together with Dunne, other female student athletes have been minted millionaires by the N.I.L. rules, including Haley and Hanna Cavinder, twins who play college basketball at Miami; Sunisa Lee, the Auburn gymnast and Olympic gold medalist on the Tokyo Games; and Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, basketball stars at Connecticut.

  • Pressure to Cut Body Fat: Collegiate athletic departments across the country require student-athletes to measure their body composition. Many female athletes have found the tests to be invasive and triggering for many who had eating disorders or were predisposed to them.
  • Recent Endorsements Bring Up Old Debate: Female college athletes are making thousands and thousands because of their large social media followings. But some who’ve fought for equity worry that their brand constructing is regressive.
  • Abuse in Women’s Soccer: The publication of the Yates Report, detailing “systemic abuse” throughout the game, is barely the start.
  • Pretty in Any Color: Women’s basketball players are styling themselves how they need, because they will. Their selections also may be lucrative.

But the brand new flood of cash — and the way in which many female athletes are attaining it — troubles some who’ve fought for equitable treatment in women’s sports and say that it rewards traditional feminine desirability over athletic excellence. And while the feminine athletes I spoke to said they were consciously deciding whether to play up or down their sexuality, some observers say that the market is dictating that selection.

Andrea Geurin, a researcher of sports business at Loughborough University in England, studied female athletes attempting to make the Rio Olympics in 2016, a lot of them American collegians. “One among the massive themes that got here out is the pressure that they felt to post suggestive or sexy photos of themselves” on social media, Geurin said.

She noted that a few of the athletes had decided that making public such imagery wasn’t value it while others had found it was considered one of the first ways to extend their online popularity and earning power.

Scroll through the social media posts from female college athletes across the USA and you can see that a big through line on lots of the women’s accounts is the well-trod and well-proven notion that sexiness sells. Posts catering to traditional ideals about what makes women appealing to men do well, and the market backs that up.

Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, one of the vital successful coaches in women’s college basketball, sees the a part of the N.I.L. revolution that focuses on beauty as regressive for female athletes. VanDerveer began coaching in 1978, a virtual eon before the popularization of the web and social media, but she said the technology was upholding old sexist notions.

“I suppose sometimes we have now this swinging pendulum, where we possibly take two steps forward, after which we take a step back. We’re fighting for all of the opportunities to compete, to play, to have resources, to have facilities, to have coaches, and all of the things that go along with Olympic-caliber athletics.”

“This can be a step back,” she added.

Race can’t be ignored as a part of the dynamic. A majority of essentially the most successful female moneymakers are white. Sexual orientation can’t be ignored, either. Few of the highest earners openly discover as gay, and plenty of post suggestive images of themselves that appear to cater to the male gaze.

Aside from the large web audiences, none of that is entirely latest. The stress amongst body image, femininity and the drive to be taken seriously as athletes has been a part of the deal for female athletes for generations.

We are able to return roughly 70 years, as only one example, to the era of the highest tennis player “Gorgeous” Gussie Moran, who grew famous as much for her body-hugging outfits and lacy underwear as for her tennis.

Within the Nineteen Nineties, the two-time Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater Katarina Witt was a Playboy cover model, and he or she’s hardly the one female athlete to indicate up in risqué photo spreads.

Consider the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition or ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue, by which artful photos of nude athletes have hooked a mostly male audience for years. But those depictions also proceed to attract female athletes who see such shoots as a likelihood to advertise body positivity, to feel boldly confident concerning the physiques they’ve honed through labor, or to challenge norms about femininity.

Female collegiate athletes are definitely benefiting from multiple ways to present themselves — while all the time having to be wary of society’s tendency to objectify.

Haley Jones, an All-America guard at Stanford and a candidate for the Player of the 12 months Award, said she didn’t wish to play up sex appeal. Her endorsement income is driven by a social media image that portrays her as a lighthearted student-athlete without an overtly provocative tone.

“I don’t post bikini pictures,” she said in a recent interview. “Not because I don’t want to indicate my body. It’s because that’s not the highest topic form of content that I need to post, and my audience isn’t in search of that for me.”

Welcome to the world of Haley Jones, Inc.

Jones, among the many few Black female collegiate athletes considered to be a top endorsement earner, has learned to quickly deconstruct the professionals and cons of the brand new era of commercialization.

She has endorsements with Nike, Beats by Dre, SoFi and Uncle Funky’s Daughter, a hair-care product for ladies with curly hair, amongst other corporations. Rishi Daulat, her agent, said Jones had remodeled six figures because the N.I.L. laws passed but declined to present a selected figure.

Jones was quick to notice female athletes can select to not take part in social media and lose out on the most important profits. Or they will participate, make cash, give attention to the supportive fans and hold their breath with a type of resignation concerning the swath of online reactions — often leering and sexualized comments on their social media platforms — that show how much they’re objectified.

“You may go outside wearing sweatpants and a puffer jacket, and also you’ll be sexualized. I may very well be on a podcast, and it could just be my voice, and I’ll face the identical thing. So, I feel it’s going to be there, irrespective of what you do or the way you present yourself.”

“That is the society we live in,” Jones added.

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